Paleo Diet During Pregnancy: Is It Safe & How To Eat 2022?

Alexandra Gregg

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

paleo pregnancy

During pregnancy, eating as healthfully as possible to stay energized and nourish your developing baby-to-be is essential.

Some people may have heard of the paleo diet and wondered about its health benefits during pregnancy. A paleo diet[1] includes foods our ancestors collected by either hunting or gathering. Foods included in the paleo diet include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, and meats. Junk food, processed sugars, dairy products, and grains are prohibited. 

The easiest way to have a healthy pregnancy is to avoid junk food and added sugars and take a daily prenatal supplement (containing folic acid and iron). However, it’s also necessary that pregnant women consume a wide variety of foods. 

As such, initiating a restrictive paleo pregnancy diet that does not contain grains or dairy products during pregnancy might be unsafe for your unborn child and thus better tried after pregnancy and breastfeeding. Read on to learn more.

Can You Eat Paleo During Pregnancy?

There is a need for additional research on the benefits and risks of the paleo diet during pregnancy. The paleo diet, as noted before, includes eating only the foods our ancestors collected by either hunting or gathering. And therefore it, unfortunately, leaves out some food items highly recommended in pregnancy; therefore, until that additional research weighs in, this diet is best implemented after delivery and breastfeeding.

The following foods are encouraged while on the paleo diet:

  • Eggs
  • Lean meats and fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetables (including most root vegetables)
  • Fruits

Also, you will avoid all added sugars and processed foods on the paleo diet. Other food groups, you are to avoid include

  • Dairy 
  • Grains/carbohydrates
  • Legumes
  • Salt
  • White potatoes (sweet potatoes are ok to eat)

As noted above, doctors and other experts[2] emphasize the importance of eating a variety of nutritious foods when it comes to having a healthy pregnancy. Instead of following a restrictive diet during pregnancy, try to eat a variety of healthy items from the basic food groups at each meal and stay hydrated. The basic food groups are as follows:

Vegetables

vegetables paleo pregnancy

Fresh vegetables are important in pregnancy as they contain large amounts of fiber to prevent constipation, provide calcium for bone development, supplement folate to support brain development and prevent spina bifida, and increase iron to maintain adequate red blood cell levels (which increases energy). Some good vegetable choices include

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Dark leafy greens 
  • Kale
  • Bell peppers

Fruits

fruits paleo pregnancy

Like vegetables, fruits[3] provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds to help with healthy fetal development. Always choose whole fruits[4] as they provide you with fiber. Fruit juice contains large amounts of sugar, making your blood sugar[5] (glucose) levels skyrocket. If you have consistently high blood glucose levels, it can lead to increased chances of

  • Prematurity  
  • Large birthweight complicating delivery
  • Breathing problems
  • Hypoglycemia at birth (low blood sugar levels)

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

Grains, legumes, and carbohydrates provide a good source of B vitamins, iron, and energy. Therefore, ensure you choose whole grain products as they provide the most fiber and minerals. Notably, large amounts of refined carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, pastries, white flour, and many kinds of cereal) during pregnancy are linked[6] to the development of gestational diabetes. 

Dairy Or Dairy-Free Alternatives (Calcium And Vitamin D Fortified)

Dairy Or Dairy-Free Alternatives

Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, Vitamin D[7], and protein. However, if you cannot tolerate milk products, you can get these nutrients from calcium- and vitamin D-fortified plant-based alternatives (e.g., almond milk, coconut milk). 

Of note, whole-fat and low-fat dairy products contain identical amounts of nutrients, so there is no need to change what you currently use to adjust for nutrition.  

Protein

Protein

Protein foods contain more than just protein. They also contain zinc, iron, and other vitamins, which help provide energy for you and your baby. Protein is essential for building muscle and tissues in the body. Great protein sources to consume during pregnancy include

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Fish (low mercury)
  • Eggs
  • Nut butter

Healthy Fats

healthy fats

Different types of fats include saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Saturated fats are considered “bad” as they raise your low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol). If your LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is high, it increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, focus on unsaturated fats as these fats can help lower your bad cholesterol, increase the “good” cholesterol (HDL-C), reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your overall heart health. Examples of unsaturated fats include

  • Avocado Oil
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds

If you are craving sweets, try to avoid convenience foods and added sugars. Instead, try consuming naturally sweet and healthy foods such as sweet potatoes, strawberries, or apples.  

Benefits Of Paleo Diet For Pregnant Women

Eating a paleo diet while pregnant isn’t all negative. The diet only eliminates some carbohydrate consumption. You are still encouraged to eat fruits[8] and starchy/root vegetables such as

  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes

The paleo diet also encourages healthy fats such as avocado, coconut, and olive oils. Adequate hydration with water is also encouraged, which is very important during pregnancy.  

Another valuable part of paleo is the consumption of whole, healthy foods that come with it. This means consuming junk foods, added sugars, and processed foods is nonexistent. 

Eating junk food during pregnancy has been shown[9] to increase macrosomia[10] (unhealthy birth weight in babies) and increase the risk of obesity in their childhood.  

Furthermore, a study[11] published in 2021 showed mothers who ate whole foods in a high-quality, healthy diet had better outcomes for baby including 

  • visual-spatial skills 
  • Intelligence
  • executive function

Of note, more studies are necessary to assess the paleo diet’s short- and long-term health effects on pregnant women and their babies-to-be. Also, because of what’s at stake (your baby’s health), such studies are less common than others that don’t involve pregnancy and will take longer to accrue information.

Potential Risks

The foundations of the paleo diet include eating too much protein with few grains or carbohydrates, which has prompted some studies based on those principles.  

For example, a study[12] published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that women who consumed too much protein (red meat) in late pregnancy had children with higher systolic blood pressure as adults than those moms who didn’t. 

Another study[13] published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that high-protein diets with large amounts of animal protein during pregnancy could result in decreased fetal growth, low birth weight, and a higher BMI (body mass index, a measure of fat and muscle) later in life for the child. 

How To Eat Paleo While Pregnant?

While a paleo diet for pregnant women might be too restrictive, a paleo-style diet (take the good without the bad) may be a perfect balance of nutrition.  

As we discussed earlier, the paleo diet might have some disadvantages, such as

  • Difficulty obtaining essential nutrients provided by grains, carbohydrates, and milk products
  • Weight loss, which in pregnancy is counterproductive to a healthy weight gain
  • Extreme cravings when adding a restrictive diet to the hormone changes of pregnancy

Yet, as we also discussed, there are some upsides to the paleo diet as well, such as 

  • Reducing intake of convenience foods
  • Reducing intake of added sugars
  • Including lots of fruits[14] and veggies throughout the day

Since the paleo has its advantages and disadvantages, it is safer while pregnant to adopt a paleo-style pregnancy meal plan which includes the good parts and discards the negative aspects of the diet. For example,

  • Reduce intake of processed foods
  • Decrease refined grains and carbohydrates that are high on the glycemic index scale that increase your chances of gestational diabetes(white bread, rice, cereal, pasta)
  • Lessen the intake of added sugars
  • Include lots of fruits and vegetables throughout the day
  • Consume legumes for fiber and other minerals
  • Consume milk and fortified plant-based milk products (such as almond milk or coconut milk) for adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Incorporate whole grains for energy and fiber and to keep blood sugar levels balanced

Since each pregnancy is unique, speak with your doctor or other medical professionals before starting any diet changes. They can also help you develop a healthy diet during pregnancy that provides all the necessary nutrition for your baby.

The Bottom Line

In summary, starting a paleo diet during pregnancy could result in extreme cravings and nutritional deficiencies, leading to serious medical issues, including a low-birth-weight baby.   

Instead, choose aspects of the paleo diet, such as the reduced convenience foods and added sugars, while eating a variety of whole foods, such as whole grains, carbohydrates, and dairy products to ensure your baby is getting adequate nutrition. In addition, make sure to take a high-quality prenatal supplement daily to ensure you meet all your nutrition requirements (especially enough iron and folic acid).  

Speak with a registered dietitian or physician about your healthy diet needs during each trimester of pregnancy. They will be able to ensure you stay hydrated, gain an appropriate amount of weight, and meet your nutritional requirements for a healthy pregnancy. 


+ 14 sources

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  1. Mayo Clinic. (2022). Paleo diet: Eat like a hunter-gatherer and lose weight? [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2022). Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082
  3. Jang, W., Kim, H., Lee, B.-E. and Chang, N. (2018). Maternal fruit and vegetable or vitamin C consumption during pregnancy is associated with fetal growth and infant growth up to 6 months: results from the Korean Mothers and Children’s Environmental Health (MOCEH) cohort study. Nutrition Journal, [online] 17(1). doi:10.1186/s12937-018-0410-6.
  4. Fan, H.-Y., Tung, Y.-T., Yang, Y.-C.S.H., Hsu, J.B., Lee, C.-Y., Chang, T.-H., Su, E.C.-Y., Hsieh, R.-H. and Chen, Y.-C. (2021). Maternal Vegetable and Fruit Consumption during Pregnancy and Its Effects on Infant Gut Microbiome. Nutrients, [online] 13(5), p.1559. doi:10.3390/nu13051559.
  5. Muraki, I., Imamura, F., Manson, J.E., Hu, F.B., Willett, W.C., van Dam, R.M. and Sun, Q. (2013). Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ, [online] 347(aug28 1), pp.f5001–f5001. doi:10.1136/bmj.f5001.
  6. Mustad, V.A., Huynh, D.T.T., López-Pedrosa, J.M., Campoy, C. and Rueda, R. (2020). The Role of Dietary Carbohydrates in Gestational Diabetes. Nutrients, [online] 12(2), p.385. doi:10.3390/nu12020385
  7. Itkonen, S., Erkkola, M. and Lamberg-Allardt, C. (2018). Vitamin D Fortification of Fluid Milk Products and Their Contribution to Vitamin D Intake and Vitamin D Status in Observational Studies—A Review. Nutrients, [online] 10(8), p.1054. doi:10.3390/nu10081054.
  8. ScienceDaily. (2016). Prenatal fruit consumption boosts babies’ cognitive development: Study discovers previously unknown benefits of fruit consumption in expectant mothers. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160525161548.htm
  9. Wen, L.M., Simpson, J.M., Rissel, C. and Baur, L.A. (2013). Maternal ‘Junk Food’ Diet During Pregnancy as a Predictor of High Birthweight: Findings from the Healthy Beginnings Trial. Birth, [online] 40(1), pp.46–51. doi:10.1111/birt.12028.
  10. Akanmode, A.M. and Heba Mahdy (2022). Macrosomia. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557577/
  11. Mahmassani, H.A., Switkowski, K.M., Scott, T.M., Johnson, E.J., Rifas-Shiman, S.L., Oken, E. and Jacques, P.F. (2021). Maternal diet quality during pregnancy and child cognition and behavior in a US cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 115(1), pp.128–141. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqab325.
  12. Herrick, K., Phillips, D.I.W., Haselden, S., Shiell, A.W., Campbell-Brown, M. and Godfrey, K.M. (2003). Maternal Consumption of a High-Meat, Low-Carbohydrate Diet in Late Pregnancy: Relation to Adult Cortisol Concentrations in the Offspring. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, [online] 88(8), pp.3554–3560. doi:10.1210/jc.2003-030287.
  13. Blumfield, M.L. and Collins, C.E. (2014). High-protein diets during pregnancy: healthful or harmful for offspring? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 100(4), pp.993–995. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.096511.
  14. Mikkelsen, T.B. (2016). Association between fruit and vegetable consumption and birth weight: A prospective study among 43,585 Danish women – Tina B. Mikkelsen, Merete Osler, Ivanka Orozova-Bekkevold, Vibeke K. Knudsen, Sjurdur F. Olsen, 2006. [online] Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1080/14034940600717688
Alexandra Gregg

Written by:

Alexandra Gregg, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Alexandra Gregg is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Kansas City, Missouri. After studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Northwest Missouri State she completed her Dietetic Internship at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Following her dietetic internship, Allie worked at Mayo Clinic in a variety of areas including nutrition support, geriatrics, neonatology, and pediatrics. In addition, she was a regular presenter at Mayo Clinic conferences and an educator for dietetic interns.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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